Tag Archives: gospel

Shepherds gather, wolves scatter.

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wolves-and-sheep

The Bible doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about wolves – or more precisely, people who are described as wolves.

 

Zephaniah and Ezekiel both describe Israel in her stubborn, defiant rebellion as being like wolves who devour and leave nothing behind.

 

Isaiah describes them as inhabiting the desolate places with jackals and hyenas.

 

Jesus told his disciples to be on guard because he was sending his disciples out like lambs among wolves – and we all know what happens to little lambs in the clenching jaws of wolves.

 

The people who are wolves in our lives have voracious appetites to destroy.  They don’t just want to take us out of commission.  Their desire is not to make us simply limp, or waver, or even just to shut us up.  They want to take us out completely.

 

And the first thing that happens with every wolf attack is that he (or she) bounds into and scatters the flock seeking out the target and going for blood.

 

Such a lovely picture, eh?

 

So why would I be thinking about wolves on New Year’s Day?

 

Because they’re everywhere, and if Jesus thought it was important to warn his disciples against them, then it must be important to remind every generation about them, too.

 

Most of us are pretty naturally on the lookout for the wolves “out there.”  We are on guard against the atheist aunty to loves to come to family gatherings and openly mock our faith.  We pray for wisdom and discernment in dealing with the militant co-worker who wants to goad us into a religious argument just to try to make us look like the racist-homophobic-intolerant-judgmental-bigot he’s already declared all believers to be.  We are even on guard against the Hollywood machine that wants to pound your faith into the ground with production after production of buffoonish portrayals of weak-minded “Christians” who are idiotic in their approach to…everything.

 

Those things are real, and we need to guard against them, but I don’t really think they are the wolves in our lives.  Those are the things meant to embarrass, insult, and maybe even injure – but they don’t destroy.  If anything, they (hopefully!) sharpen our defense of the hope that is within us and motivate us to live above the fray in a manner worthy of our callings – worthy of the Name by whic we are called.  “Christians” mean we belong to Jesus the Christ after all.

 

But wolves are much more dangerous than any of these things.  Wolves are malicious, calculating, and cruel.

 

Wolves destroy marriages, friendships, mother-child bonds. Wolves split churches and denominations. Wolves tear down and never build up.  Wolves target godly reputations, fruitful ministries, and long records of good works to twist and distort them by making them appear prideful or weak or wanton.  Wolves target the good and want to rip it to shreds.  

 

We’ve all seen it happen and so we might be duped into thinking that we would quickly recognize when a wolf has crept into our sheepfold, but we don’t.

 

There is another passage that is chilling when you know how brutal wolves can be.

 

Matthew 7:15 states, “Beware the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

 

They’re in the sheep pen folks.  They look like sheep and sound like sheep.  They quote Scripture and tell testimonies and teach your Sunday School classes.  They are not the cartoonish wolf with a sheepskin badly slung over it’s back with wolf claws and jaws sticking out so you can immediately sound the alarm bells and put everyone on high alert.  They’re good at looking like sheep.

 

In fact, they’re so good at it that Jesus then gives us instruction for how to recognize them – he says, “you will recognize them by their fruits.”  Thorn bushes don’t grow grapes and thistles don’t grow figs.  And ultimately, though they might fake it for a good long while, wolves don’t grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, or self-control.  Only the Holy Spirit can produce that kind of fruit.  Wolves seek to destroy all that.

 

The remainder of Matthew 7 describes other ways that we will be able to recognize those wolves who pretend to be sheep – they will produce diseased fruit, they will do many things, “in Jesus’ name,” and they will be fools who build on shifting foundations.

 

It is often very, very difficult to recognize a wolf.  It is especially difficult because each and every one of us can have wolf-like fangs of sinfulness that we bear if we feel threatened or claws that take swipes at our fellow sheep.  Knowing the difference between a sheep behaving badly and a true wolf is exceedingly difficult, but Jesus told us to beware of them so it must also be true that he will give us the wise discernment we need to learn to do tell the difference.

 

In recent years I’ve had my spiritual eyes opened a bit to this and have begun to learn what it means to “beware the wolves among you.”  A few patterns have emerged, and in my observations, it has been particularly helpful to note the stark contrast between wolves and shepherds.  Jesus, our ultimate Good Shepherd, is also our ultimate standard.  Of course, no earthly shepherd is as all-Good as Jesus, but in general terms, the shepherds among us demonstrate some characteristics that are in notable opposition to those of wolves.  Comparing the truly good with the truly evil makes the differences easier to see and recognize.

 

So here are ten comparisons that have been particularly helpful to me:

 

  1. Wolves tend to themselves – Shepherds tend to the flock.  
  2. Wolves use people for their own purposes – Shepherds use themselves up for the good of others.
  3. Wolves make much of their willingness to stand against evil – Shepherds make much of God and how He enables them to stand against it, especially through their weakness.
  4. Wolves like to keep things secret and in the dark – Shepherds know that the light of truth clears away the darkness.
  5. Wolves call goodness, truth, and beauty into question – Shepherds praise these things.
  6. Wolves impugn motives without knowing enough – Shepherds are slow to judge motives, knowing that they usually don’t know enough.
  7. Wolves say harsh things to cut down and destroy – Shepherds say hard things in order to build up and restore.
  8. Wolves seek attention, praise, and status even at the cost of others – Shepherds deflect attention, praise, and status especially to bless others.
  9. Wolves skillfully gossip, malign, and covertly discuss the situations of others – Shepherds hold confidences even at great cost to themselves.
  10. Wolves drive people apart – Shepherds draw people together.

 

Again, any one of us can display wolf-like sinfulness.  But these wolf-characteristics cannot be generally true of a sheep.  The two cannot co-exist in one person.  In short, Shepherds gather, wolves scatter.

 

Near the end of Matthew 7 Jesus says that the wise man will be able to withstand the storms and the floods and the wind that seek to destroy because his foundation is Jesus – the rock.  It doesn’t take a theologian to figure out that the wolves he spoke of in the previous verses might be some of the storms and floods and wind.

 

As this new year emerges it presents us with untold billions of things to be talking to God about.  One major theme in all of these is the increased persecution of the church around the world.  Those persecutions could take the form of mass executions, imprisonments, or torture.  Or it could come walking into our fellowships – our sacred families of believers – and sit down among us and eat with us and pray with us and then seek to devour and utterly destroy everything good it can sink its greedy jaws into.
Beware the wolves among us, but don’t fear them.  Because the Good Shepherd continues to care for his sheep and has already laid down his life for them!  Ultimately, we can rest in the knowledge that He will deal justly with the wolves even as He gathers His sheep to Himself.

You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is…

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So stop trying.

I know – that goes against all the things you think you’ve been taught.

Be good.

Be nice.

Be generous.

Be compassionate.

Be better.

And the implied message at the end of all those directives is, “so you make (or keep) God happy with you.”

The trouble is – it’s all wrong.  It’s a big fat lie that we actually seem to like telling ourselves and one another.

One of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve ever received was this:  “You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is…”

If you are a believer – a follower of Jesus who knows for certain that you’ve been forgiven – lifted out of a filthy ocean of disgusting sin that you not only dug for yourself but filled bucket by bucket and were hopelessly flailing about in with no hope of getting yourself out of much less cleaned up from – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

If you are a disciple of the Son of God – a sinner who has repented and hates not only the sinful storehouse you built but also the fact that you are prone to building it again – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

If you are aching to know God better and love Him more because he put the desire into your heart of stone-turned-to-flesh – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

Did you catch that?  God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be!

The real question each of us must face when considering our mortality is not, “Am I at peace with God?”  Rather, it is this:  “Is God at peace with me?”

And if you’ve seen your hopeless condition and run to Jesus for rescue, because you know that his life and his death and his resurrection have satisfied all the demands God has made on us that we couldn’t satisfy – and that it has been offered to you freely – then God is at peace with you.  He is happy with you and cannot be made happier.

His delight has been made free to you – though it was enormously costly to Him – and He is happy to offer it to you.

And the glorious irony is that God is happy with us precisely because of the offer.  For when he sees you and me – sinners rescued from the miry pits of our own making, saved from destruction and an endless eternity of heartache and despair – he sees his beloved Jesus.  Period.

The exchange was so utterly complete that when Jesus became sin for us, he filled us up with himself – and that is all God sees.  Perfect, complete, clean, pure.

God is already as happy with you as He can be, because when he sees you, if you belong to him, he sees his Son in you perfectly reflected and shining in beautiful glory.

You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is, because when He sees you, He sees His Son.

But there was more to the advice.

“You cannot make God any happier with you than He already is.  And indeed, you must not try.”

I can hear you now (because, truthfully, I’ve said the same things).

What?!?  What about following the 10 Commandments?  What about all the Old Testament Commandments – or the New Testament ones??  What about all the places in the Bible that tell us to do this or not do that?  What about all the RULES?!?

Being good is good, and it can reflect that you’ve had your heart changed – but it will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

Being kind is good, and it can be an indication of Who you belong to – but it will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

Giving generously, being compassionate, showing mercy – all good, and definitely character traits of someone who loves well, but… you got it.  They will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

In fact, if that is your motive, you are believing a false Gospel.  You are, in effect, saying, “Thanks Jesus for the death on the cross and all, but I’ve got it from here.  Really.  I’m good.”

For some ridiculous reason we would rather bear the terrible burden of trying to satisfy God ourselves than trust in the freedom that Christ has provided.  How does that make sense?  And yet, I talk with more people than not who claim to know and follow Jesus who are running around trying to make God happy! 

STOP!

Think about it.  If you’re still having to work hard to earn God’s favor – what exactly did you get freed from?  If you really believe that Jesus saved you, why aren’t you living like you’re saved from the crushing burden of trying to do all that God requires?

I’m asking you the same questions I had to ask myself once.  I realized I wasn’t living like I really believed what I said I believed.  I was running around working hard to make God happy.  But you know what – I knew in my heart nothing I did could ever be good enough.  There was always something I could have – should have – done better.  There was always work left undone.  I got lazy or sloppy in my pursuit of perfection and that really messes with this whole happy God thing!  Unbelievably, I had even convinced myself that I could keep starting over with a clean slate – but that’s not true!

If Jesus’ work wasn’t enough, what hope did I have of making God happy?  If Jesus’ death and resurrection was just a starting point, what could I possibly conjure up that was better than what He had already done?

And that, my friends, is precisely the point.  I can’t.  You can’t.  No one can.  We really were hopelessly lost in our own foolish, stupid, selfish, lazy, mean-spirited, ugly, swiftly-filling, ocean-sized pit of sin.  But the rescue has already been completed, and it is spectacularly sufficient and good.  Trying to add anything to it to somehow gain God’s approval would be like doing your laundry in that cess-pool you created and offering it back to God with the hopes that He will somehow like it better than the radiant robes of righteousness that Jesus has already provided.  Just stop.

You cannot make God any happier with you than He already is.  And indeed, you must not try.  For when He sees you He sees His beloved Son, and His work is beautifully sufficient and good.  Jesus has freed you – now go and live in the joy of knowing you are free indeed!

Stop Teaching Your Children to Be Nice…

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You’ve heard it, I’m sure, a thousand times – “be nice!”

Most of us have contributed to the chorus of mothers and fathers bending low, looking their little ones in the eye, and in the face of some conflict with siblings or peers instructing them to, “be nice!”

STOP IT!

Webster’s defines “nice” as:

          Pleasing; agreeable; delightful.

         To behave in a friendly, ingratiating, or conciliatory manner.

Those are all “nice” ways of behaving – of interacting with our fellow human beings.

But are they good?

If we consider the messages that these words convey we will start to notice a nasty trend…  At the root of each of them is people pleasing.  What we usually mean when we tell our kids to “be nice” is to give in, yield, capitulate, surrender.

If they are simply defending their own selfishness, then yes, by all means, encourage them to yield to righteousness.  But there are better ways to instruct them in that then simply saying, “be nice.”  Calling out their selfishness is a great place to start.

But all too often, what we want when we tell our children to “be nice” is for them to stop whatever behavior is taking place so that they (and we) avoid conflict.  Have you ever interrupted your child telling auntie that she needs Jesus because you know that auntie is a dyed-in-the-wool God-hater who has already raged in furious indignation over your “arrogance” in telling her how to live her life?  What if God is pleased to use the voice of a little child to disarm her fury and penetrate her heart of stone?

What we do when we tell our kids to “be nice” is interrupt a different lesson that ought to occur.  Even if auntie decides to rage at your little one – isn’t that a good (albeit hard) lesson to walk through with your child?

We know that God often teaches us the most profound lessons through the hardest things.  Why do we want to take those things away from our children?

Following are five reasons I can think of – I’m sure there are more.

We teach our children to “be nice” so that…

  1. Conflicts will either stop or not arise at all rather than teach them how to resolve conflict in a God-honoring way (which is harder, takes more time, and more prayers for wisdom than we ever dreamed we’d need!).
  2. They will be well-liked among their peers.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being well-regarded amongst one’s peers, but if we give the message to our children that this is our goal rather than the pleasant outcome of living with integrity, we have simply begun laying the foundation of building up little Pharisees rather than Disciples of Jesus.  We are teaching them to care more about what others think about them than what God thinks about them.
  3. They will be well-liked among our  Our children see to the heart of this pride with laser-like accuracy.  We might not say it out loud, but we say it loud and clear nonetheless:  “it matters more to mom (or dad) what my friends think of me than the person you are turning out to be.”  (ouch!)
  4. They will climb the social ladders set before them.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being successful in relationships – that’s actually a good gift from the Lord.  But when we teach them that climbing social ladders is important we distort and pervert the true nature of God-honoring relationships. Rather than being willing to invest in the life of the other person because they have value and worth as image-bearers of the Almighty, we actually train them in manipulation techniques; I’ll be nice to you if you give me social standing – I’ll give you social standing if you “stroke” me by being “nice.”  Incidentally, these are the “friendships” that crumble in the face of hardship, but understanding what they are based on makes it clear why they collapse when “nice-ness” is gone.
  5. Because we want them perceived as those who get along, don’t rock the boat, keep things smooth and so on.  We want to save our children from the heartache of trials and tribulations.  We want things to be easy and comfortable for our kids… because that is what we really want for ourselves. (ouch again!)

Our culture has elevated “nice” to a place of pre-eminance.  We demand that “being nice” rule our public discourse.  We demand that “being nice” rule our educational institutions.  We operate in a way that places “being nice” as the highest form of virtue and have ceased to tolerate anything that disrupts the peace and harmony of “nice-ness.”

But is this what the Bible teaches us to value?

In a singular and resounding word – No!

Here is what the Bible says about our expectations of “getting along”:

  • If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

Living as believers guarantees that we will not be well-received.  Let that sink in.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not to go looking for conflicts, strife, and persecution.  They’ll come along just fine on their own – trust me.  And when our troubles are caused by our own foolishness or wickedness, we need to own the consequences, repent, and learn the lessons we can from them.

But in the course of living lives defined by the transformation of the Gospel within us – lives marked by Spirit-given gifts – we will not always be perceived as being “nice.”  And as parents, it’s our job to prepare our children for the blows that will come as a result of being a disciple of Jesus.

Standing against sin will always bring with it trials of various kinds.

Rather than teaching our children to “be nice” how about if we use words like these as each situation demands:

Be…

    • Loving.
    • Kind
    • Strong.
    • Of good courage
    • Forgiving.
    • Merciful.
    • Truthful.
    • Patient.
    • Gentle.
    • A man/woman of integrity.
    • Compassionate.
    • Humble.
    • Generous.
    • Wise.
    • Someone who stands up for the widows and orphans among you.
    • Holy.

Each of these things will require you to take the time to explain them to your children according to their understanding.  You will need to show them, for example, why avoiding a difficult conflict is not actually good for the other person – even when confrontation opens us up to false accusations and gossip.  You can help them see how God is providing an opportunity to enter into the sufferings of Christ by allowing them to experience insults, and malicious claims against them the way Jesus did before he was crucified.  You can help your child learn to bear the weight of other’s sin in this way because Jesus did it for him – and you will be, at the same time, helping your child to love his Savior all the more as the realization of the cost of the Cross becomes clearer to him through his own suffering.

We are not called to be people-pleasing, ease-and-comfort seeking survivors of this world.  We are called to be God-glorifying, disciple-seeking, victorious citizens of the next.  Let’s help one another teach our children how to do the same.

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2… are few

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“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Luke 10:2

Are few

Let me ask you a question – and Indian idiom (or so I’ve heard) – that  I’ve asked my children many, many times…  How do you eat an elephant?

The answer (and they all know this, too) is, “One bite at a time.”

When they are facing a task that seems to be too big for them to ever be able to accomplish (like catching up 30 lessons of math or cleaning out the garage or earning enough money to pay for something big) I’ve tried to teach them to just get started and do the first bit.  After the first bit is started the next bit is a little easier, and soon, you’re trucking along with a song in your heart and the job is getting done.

Most of the time a little more encouragement is needed, the mountainous task in front of them looms large until it’s more than half way gone, and there is a whole lot of discipline that goes into continuing to the end than the above description might lead one to believe.  But in the end, one faithful foot in front of the other – one bite at a time as it were – really is the best way to go.  We see a big thing and we just need to get on with it.

But sometimes the task in front of us really is impossible.  There’s too much work for one person – or a few – to ever be able to get done.

What do you do when there is a job in front of you that is simply too big?

What do you do when the job is like digging a well in the desert with a spoon or building a road through the mountains with a toy dump truck – a job that just can’t be done without more?

When Jesus told his disciples that the laborers were few he was, perhaps, opening their eyes to the enormity of the task he was setting before them and the impossibility that they alone could do it.  It was as if he was saying, “Look –  I have a harvest that is more plentiful than the stars.  My harvest is more numerous than the grains of sand at the sea.  There aren’t enough of you.  You can’t do it…”

I don’t know – maybe I’m a little looney – or maybe my imagination just gets the better of me sometimes, but I think if I had been listening to this I might have been having mental whiplash setting in about now.

OK, let me get this straight, Jesus – I really am trying to understand what you’re saying here…  Harvest – really good.  Plentiful – check.  Labor – hard, but fulfilling, got it.  Task – impossible…  huh???  I don’t know, Jesus – this sort of sounds like you’re setting us up to fail, doesn’t it?  You’re sending us out there without enough workers to do an impossible task?  What is that supposed to accomplish?”

Settle down there, Sparky (that’s you, reader, and me) – let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Doesn’t this sound familiar?

Be perfect as I am perfect.  Impossible task.

Love your enemies.  Impossible task.

Forgive them seventy times seven.  Impossible task.

Turn to him the other cheek.  Impossible task.

If anyone would follow me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  Impossible task.

Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Impossible task.

Do not fear them that can kill the body…. OK – is it just me or does this sound impossible, too?

All of these things are impossible, except that nothing is impossible with God.

So let’s look at those commands again.

Be perfect – Christ makes it possible.

Love your enemies – Christ makes it possible.

Forgive those who wrong you – Christ makes it possible.

Turn the other cheek – Christ makes it possible.

You get the idea…  Go to work at a task which simply aren’t enough of you for…. Christ makes that possible, too.

The beauty in all of the “impossibles” in our lives is that God gets all the glory.  When Moses had to win a battle against the heavily armed, highly trained Egyptian army with a bunch of terrified, cowering slaves – everyone there knew it was impossible for God’s people to prevail – except that with God, it wasn’t.

When Gideon had to win a battle being ridiculously outnumbered 300 to… so many that they are described as, “like locusts… and grains of sand in their abundance”… everyone there knew God’s people prevailing there was impossible, too.  Except that with God, it wasn’t.

When Joshua was told to instruct the priests, and then the army to go march around a city blowing horns in order to prevail against it, OK, come on – that was just humiliating in its impossibility.  Except that with God, it was anything but.

So this is starting to get clearer, now, isn’t it?

Jesus is telling us – “Go.  I have a ridiculously impossible task for you to do.  Trust me on this one, it’s completely outside of your skill set – I mean really.  There aren’t enough of you and there’s no way you can do it, but I want you to go and do it anyway.  Because with me, all things are possible.”

So what are we waiting for?!

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2… the laborers

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“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Luke 10:2

The Laborers

I have spent most of my life being surrounded by laborers.  Farm laborers, factory laborers, ship yard laborers, and landscape laborers just to name a few.  I have visited other countries where this is also true – on any given morning on any given street the hustle and bustle everywhere was of laborers who did everything from laundry to construction, and some simply walked along the roads each day and picked up trash.  I have seen trains in big cities packed to the seeming breaking point of laborers shuffling from home to job and back again.  Every day, no matter what else in life is swirling about, people working for others do just that – they get up, go out, and they work hard – for someone else.

People who are motivated know how to work.  The term “laborers” carries with it the understanding of hard, physical exertion.  Jesus was not talking about tourists, or onlookers.  He wasn’t referring to passers-by, or those whose station in life has made it so that they have others do their work for them.

No, Jesus was talking about the grit and grime of exhausting, sweat-producing, ongoing work.  

So who are these laborers?  Who is Jesus referring to?

In one sense surely Jesus was talking about the disciples who would start his church.  The world was ripe for a huge harvest and after his work was done, the harvest began.  But in another very real sense there is another group of workers who must sit up and listen as we heed Jesus’ words.  For in the same way that he was speaking to his disciples (and also to us) when he said, “go, therefore, into all the world and make disciples…” he was speaking to the same future disciples when he spoke the words of Luke 10:2.

We are those workers!  We are the ones who are to live giving our lives and energy and devotion to the sweet and rewarding task he has called us to.  Isn’t it wonderful to know that you have been hand-picked by the maker of the universe to be in his service?

But let me ask you something that might make you wince a little….

When was the last time you broke a sweat for the Gospel?  When was the last time you fell into bed exhausted from your efforts to woo people to the warmth and peace of the Love of Christ?  When was the last time you labored to see another soul brought to Christ?  When was the last time you were working so hard at this that you thought you couldn’t go on?

(I’m asking myself these questions, too.)

I wrote once about the joy I found in cleaning a particularly filthy bathroom because I realized I was doing it for the Lord.  That has remained a powerful lesson in my life.  It doesn’t matter what God asks me to do, I’m happiest doing that, knowing Who it is that I am really serving, than I am doing anything else!  There is great joy – giddy, delightful, soul-rejuvenating joy – when we know that our work is for the Lord of the Harvest!

Work is hard, but work is good.  Sometimes I have to remind my kids that work was not part of the curse when sin entered the world.  God gave Adam work to do before Eve came along!  Work is our mission.  Work is sweet and rewarding.  We were made for work!

Toil is what came about as part of the curse.  Toil is that relentless, exhausting, fruitless struggle that brings about no product for all our effort and barely keeps us from losing ground.  Toil is part of our existence right now, but work is, too.

Being a laborer in Christ’s harvest is magnificent work.  If you’re finding that you are lacking joy in your mission, let me lovingly suggest that you might be toiling for the wrong harvest, because Jesus promises that his burden is easy and his yoke is light.

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2 … “but”

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“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Luke 10:2

Continuing the series…

We all know it’s coming – we brace ourselves mentally, emotionally, sometimes even physically.

We know something is coming when someone starts a conversation along the lines of, “I want you to know that I really value all your hard work and effort, but…”

Or, “I would have done that thing you asked me to do, but…”

Or, “you do that really well, but…”

Or, a personal peeve for me is, “I’m sorry, but…”

There is always contrast, for sure, but normally it is a “this is good… but… that is bad” idea conveyed when we use that little word, “but” in the middle of a sentence.  And if you think about it, the words following the “but” in the sentences we use typically require not just our attention, but also our action.

The harvest is plentiful, but

We know it’s coming – there is a problem that is about to be laid out in front of us.  Things are not as they should – or could – be.

And so it is in Luke 10:2.  The harvest is plentiful – Jesus has declared that it is so.  He is telling us that this is true… but.

There is so much that comes to mind as I think about this turn in the phrase.  Jesus is taking us from hopeful, glorious, breathtaking heights and saying – “but friends, there is a problem in front of us.”

It makes me wonder what it would have been like to be listening to him as the words were coming out of his mouth.  If I heard his voice and saw his face and recognized the compassion he has for the harvest yet to be brought in to his heavenly storehouse – would I react with the “yeah, yeah – harvest, workers, got it” yawn that marks so many of our hearts?

This reminds me first of the Creation, when everything that God made was good, good, good – until the “but” came along. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Everything around you is good, Adam… but.

It was worthy of his attention.  And it was worthy of is active response.  When God points something out to us, we need to pay attention to him.  It’s not like a tour guide pointing out interesting sites and telling fun stories.  We can pay attention to those or not and while we might miss out on some interesting or even helpful things – we’re not going to loose much for our lack of focus.

No, this was profoundly important.  The consequences of not paying attention were life-altering – for a lot more of us than just Adam and Eve.

But” means something.

However, there is another “but” right on the heels of that first one.

“But for Adam, there was not found a helper suitable for him,” and “it was not good that the man should be alone.”  God had declared that all of his creation was good – gloriously good! – and then God said there was something that needed to be addressed.  And he was right.  Adam needed a helper suitable for him, so God provided one perfectly fit for the task at hand.  Eve was created and things went from good to very good.

And this should be very good new to us as well.  God can handle the problems he identifies.

There are so many things that are not as they should or could or ought to be.  What is my response when I hear them – read them?  How should I respond to the reality that Jesus has declared, but…?

I know this might be heady, almost academic-sounding stuff for some, but bear with me.  Jesus has told us something is unshakably true… but we act like it isn’t – or that somehow it doesn’t really matter.  We tune him out with all of our electronic or social or academic distractions the way we tune out the tour guide at the museum.

Would we really have the guts to do that to his face?  Would we ever even want to?

“The harvest is plentiful, but….” should stop us dead in our tracks.  That warning of a negative reality to what Christ has just told us should be shocking news to us that makes us stop what we’re doing, put down what we’re being distracted with, turn away from the lesser things and say, “wait – what?!”

The good news is that, just like in the Garden when everything was declared “good… but,” Jesus doesn’t just leave us on our own to figure out how to solve the problem – he gives us the solution in his next breath.

We are fools if we ignore the problem, but we are lacking faith if we think we need to scramble and come up with some kind of plan to fix things.

“The harvest is plentiful, but…” is a “good news – bad news” scenario.  The good news is wonderfully good.  And the bad news has a solution.  But we need to pay attention… for as in the Garden, the failure to do so can have life-altering consequences.

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2 – Plentiful

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Continuing the series…

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Luke 10:2

Plentiful

There is a harvest of souls to be reaped and it is plentiful – it is not meager or sparse.  The Lord of the harvest has invited us to be laborers in this joyful work.  He has promised to bring people to faith from every tribe and tongue and nation – do we really consider what that means?

Heaven will be filled with great variety, sure, but heaven will be FILLED!  He has not given us a small task, but a bountiful one!  Revelation 7 describes it like this:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

No matter how you look at this, “a great multitude that no one could number” is a LOT of people!  I’ve been in crowds where hundreds of thousands are gathered.  I’ve seen crowds where 1 or 2 million are gathered.  These are seas of humanity converging in one area together.  It’s an overwhelming number of people…. But those crowds were numbered!

What does it take to gather a crowd of people together that can’t possibly be numbered?

But I have a confession to make here – I don’t really want to be crammed into close quarters with – I don’t know – billions (?) quadrillions (?)   centillions (I looked that up – it’s 10 to the 303 power!)   – of people!  Do you ever struggle with the imagery of a heavenly city crowded with throngs of people praising God in worship and song with all the gusto they can muster?  I do.

But this is the City of God I protest to my own self.  How can I not want to be part of that?

Well, of course I want to be there, and I know, intellectually, that it will be good.  So where do my perceptions and emotions collide with the truth of what that reality will be?

My ideas of large crowds of people are based on unpleasant experiences with large crowds of people!  Masses of strangers jockeying for position in hot, close quarters (or jammed parking lots) all looking to get where they want to get before everyone else gets there…. Sporting events where people are loud and obnoxious… and then they start drinking…  Conferences where being first means getting a good seat and being last means you can’t hear or see the speaker… Market places in developing countries where one wrong step could land me hopelessly lost and everyone is yelling in words I don’t understand… Amusement parks where you’ve paid a small fortune to get you and your family through the gates only to spend so much time waiting in lines that the day ends up costing $15 or $20 per ride and you’ve waited with people who have no desire to shelter your youngsters from even the coarsest of language or behaivor… No thanks.

But will this heavenly crowd be like this?

First of all, that crowd will not be strangers – it will be family.  Even if we haven’t met them yet, we will know we are deeply, meaningfully, connected – related – to each other through Jesus.  Family reunions, even rambunctious ones, are different from large crowds of strangers gathering together.  There are lasting connections with that group – history – that makes us glad to be there.  (“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50)

(OK, I know not all families are great to be with, but Jesus’ family will be everything our earthly families were meant to be and more.)

Secondly, everyone in that crowd will be freed from their sinful selves and be on their most loving, caring, considerate behavior all the time!  No selfish jostling people out of the way.  No crude or angry voices.  No lines that lead to disappointment.  No bad seats.  No one cutting in front.  Rather, we will all have the genuine heart attitude of, “No, no, please, you go first.” (“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35)

Thirdly, we will care for one another the way we care for ourselves.  We will be looking out for the well-being and best interest of each other – because it will give us great joy.   (“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Romans 12:4-5; and to further clarify, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” Ephesians 5:29-30)

But most importantly, all will be right because God himself will be dwelling among us.  .”  (“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4)

So then, the crowds will not be the ill-mannered sports fans or conference goers or amusement ride aficionados we’ve all encountered but will be the kindest, gentlest, most genuinely thoughtful people we can possibly imagine, because God will be transforming each and every one of us!

Now, I can’t wait to see that!